Tennessee Williams's typewriter on display in Tools of the Trade at the American Writers Museum

Typewriter Tuesday: Tennessee Williams

Welcome to Typewriter Tuesday, a series from the American Writers Museum that aims to shed light on the typewriters and other tools behind some of your favorite works of literature. Our special exhibit Tools of the Trade features more than a dozen typewriters on loan from Steve Soboroff’s impressive collection, as well as other writing implements and instruments used by American writers. Today, learn more about playwright Tennessee Williams and his 1936 Corona Junior.

Tennessee Williams working at his 1936 Corona Junior. This typewriter is on display in our upcoming exhibit Tools of the Trade.

“I try to work every day because you have no refuge but writing. When you’re going through a period of unhappiness, a broken love affair, the death of someone you love, or some other disorder in your life, then you have no refuge but writing.” –Tennessee Williams

Such is the power of writing, a power which playwright Tennessee Williams understood all too well. A debilitating childhood illness, absent father, family troubles, and personal attacks against him for his homosexuality all made reality unpleasant for Williams, and writing was his escape. He used significant events in his life, most notably his sister’s frontal lobotomy, to inform and inspire his writing.

And here at the American Writers Museum we are fascinated not only by the writers and their work, but also the instruments they used to write those works. Our Tools of the Trade exhibit examines these implements, the often forgotten but absolutely vital tools that writers need to create. Tools of the Trade features a variety of writing implements including pens, inkwells, typewriters and even Helen Keller’s braille writer.

One of the typewriters on display is this 1936 Corona Junior used by Tennessee Williams, which he bought while attending Washington University in St. Louis. Given the timeframe it is likely that his first play, Battle of Angels, which was first performed in 1940, was written on this very typewriter.

Tennessee Williams’s 1936 Corona Junior.

A prolific writer, Tennessee Williams would go on to write a number of plays including The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, among many others. He also wrote novels, memoirs, essays, and poetry and short story volumes. Throughout his career, Williams was both adored and maligned by critics, easily becoming one America’s most controversial playwrights. However, nowadays Williams, along with Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill, is considered one of America’s major playwrights of the twentieth century. As described by the Poetry Foundation, Williams was a “rebel who broke with the rigid conventions of drama that had preceded him, explored new territory in his quest for a distinctive form and style, created characters as unforgettable as those of Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, or William Faulkner, and lifted the language of the modern stage to a poetic level unmatched in his time.”

This 1936 Corona Junior used by Tennessee Williams will be on display at the American Writers Museum beginning June 2019.

Williams used the typewriter featured here before all of that, before he became famous. This was the typewriter used in his formative years at university and post-graduation. Picture a young Williams sitting down in front of this typewriter, perhaps writing an essay for a college class, or the first draft of a short story that would later become a hit play. It’s difficult to know exactly what was written on this typewriter, but the role this typewriter played in Williams’s development of a writer is undeniable. Like Williams said, there is “no refuge but writing,” and this 1936 Corona Junior helped Williams find that refuge.

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